Examinations as a route to high bureaucratic office have been around since the advent of civilized governance. But the complexities of modern life are far greater than those of ancient Greece. Modern India is no exception. For the last 50-odd years, its slow-moving and secretive bureaucracy checked its potential growth.
Things, however, may change. The cloistered realms of the Union finance ministry, the Planning Commission and the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) may get a whiff of fresh air: The three bodies are planning to induct young interns who will get to work on projects there and hopefully gain some interesting experience. The internships, scheduled for two months, are meant for undergraduate and post-graduate students. While RBI plans to hold a test to select candidates, the commission and the finance ministry are relying on the screening committee route.
Presided over by geriatric bureaucrats whose last touch with people is a district posting eons earlier, the commission and the finance ministry are repositories of fast decaying wisdom. The former is most susceptible to such tendencies, RBI probably the least and the finance ministry is sandwiched somewhere in between in the knowledge equation.
In such circumstances, the idea of internship in Government of India organizations is interesting, if not novel. Of the three, the finance ministry has a more transparent take on the why of the scheme. It feels the two-way nature of the interaction between young scholars with “refreshing ideas” will benefit bureaucrats as well. This is a welcome change as our civil servants feel theirs is the last word on matters of knowledge.
If there appears to be one shortcoming, it’s that the process stops at internship. Perhaps it’s early days and even the first batch of interns has to be churned out. The internship-to-job route is an international best practice in banks, companies and even government agencies. If the present scheme takes that road, it would be an administrative innovation unseen in India since the days of the Raj.?But that’s still distant, given the formidable bureaucratic gauntlet that any such innovative process faces in India.
It’s time that we recognize the limited utility of the journey that a civil servant takes from the dusty districts of the country all the way to the rather still portals of bureaucratic New Delhi. The process had a certain utility at one point in our history. Not any more.
The limited cognitive abilities of even the best minds are an impediment in taking appropriate administrative decisions. The trek from the district to the secretariat was meant to rid problems of “bounded rationality” (as the administrative thinker Herbert Simon called them) in a civil servant. The process has not worked. Instead of overcoming these problems, new ones such as corruption, provincial outlooks and parochialism have overtaken civil servants.
There is also the problem of quick changes in financial and other markets, economic circumstances and events that develop by the second, making the old model of administrative training redundant. In such a situation, a different model of training is called for. Selecting the right candidates from the interns in such programmes and then letting them acquire administrative experience along with higher education is the right step. As for their being unaware of “Indian realities”, short stints in state governments should be sufficient to correct any biases on that count.
In this light, perhaps, it’s time that other ministries look at direct recruitment given their own, specific requirements. What possibly can a group of generalist officers contribute in areas such as defence, forests and environment and a host of other specialized departments?
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